Where Do We Go From Here? Part 1, Braves Payroll

The 2020 Atlanta Braves team was the most exciting and jubilant team that I’ve ever witnessed in my 35+ years of fandom. Luckily for the Braves, most of the core is under control for 2021. However, not so lucky for the Braves, there was a double loss of revenue for the team as both the Battery and, obviously, Truist Park took mighty hits.

In 2020, the Braves held a payroll that would’ve been the highest in franchise history, coming in at $160 MM. Fortunately for the bottom line, the Braves only had to pay ~$60 MM of that amount. Still, that $60 MM combined with the loss in revenue for both venues likely cost the organization hundreds of millions and I cannot fathom that the Braves can afford a $160 MM payroll come 2021.

I’ve heard floated from several opinions that I trust that believe dollars spent by MLB overall will be down 20%. That seems about right to me for the Braves, so I’m going to operate on the belief that the team will have a payroll in the $130MM range.

In today’s piece, we will look at the players under contract for the upcoming season, arbitration eligible players, and pre-arb players to get a general understanding of where the payroll sits, the team’s needs, and the $ that is available.

Players Under Contract for the 2021 Season

There are 7 guys that are under contract for the 2021 season and one that has an option that is an absolute no-brainer pick up. Here are their salaries:

Total: $70.7 MM for 8 players

MLB Trade Rumors Arbitration Estimates for Braves

A few weeks back, MLBTR put up my favorite offseason piece of the year, their arbitration estimates. However, it comes with 3 separate predictions due to the unpredictability of a 60-game season and how they’ll measure it.

For the sake of my sanity and this exercise, I’m sticking with the middle number as I feel it’s what the union will fight for (and rightly deserve).

Johan Camargo – $1.9MM / $2.3MM / $1.9MM
Grant Dayton – $900K / $1.0MM / $800K
Adam Duvall – $4.4MM / $7.1MM / $4.7MM
Max Fried – $2.4MM / $4.6MM / $2.4MM
Luke Jackson – $1.9MM / $2.1MM / $1.9MM
A.J. Minter – $1.1MM / $1.6MM / $1.1MM
Mike Soroka – $1.8MM / $1.9MM / $1.8MM
Dansby Swanson – $4.3MM / $8.3MM / $5.0MM

Total:$28.9 MM

Cumulative Total: $99.6. MM for 16 players

It’s quite possible the Braves keep all of these guys as they all have some sort of value to the team. However, I’d venture a guess that both Camargo and Luke could be shopped this offseason.

Pre-Arb Braves

This is the section that is saving the payroll as there are a ton of regulars that will cost very little and, if healthy, should receive regular MLB time. For now, I’m counting on 8 of these players to be on the Opening Day roster (players in bold). The guys that are italicized are players that I think are trade chips this offseason.

Total: ~$4.5 MM for 8 players

Cumulative Total: ~$104.1 MM for 26 players.

Assuming no trades, the Braves have at least 24 players that are MLB ready and/or deserving of a roster spot. I used the term deserving very loosely for Ender Inciarte.

Around the Horn

Infield (5): Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, Austin Riley, Johan Camargo

Outfield (3): Ronald Acuna Jr., Cristian Pache, Adam Duvall

Catcher (2): Travis d’Arnaud, William Contreras

Starting Pitching (5): Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Ian Anderson, Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson

Relief Pitching (9): Darren O’Day, A.J. Minter, Tyler Matzek, Grant Dayton, Jacob Webb, Huascar Ynoa, Luke Jackson, Will Smith, Chris Martin

Needs

This is the hardest part to write as one could easily justify that Austin Riley needs a platoon partner, or that AA needs to move on from Johan Camargo. One could also come to the conclusion that Adam Duvall is not an everyday starter and should only see time against LHP, especially in a 162 game season. And then there’s the starting pitching where both Bryse Wilson and Kyle Wright have shown dominance one start and the complete inability to finish an inning in others. And while the bullpen listed has a lot of great arms, it lacks the eye catching depth that was present this year. Granted, at one point in time Mark Melancon and Shane Greene weren’t household names and a few of these guys might only need reps to become the next ace reliever.

This brings me to my final point on this topic. Alex Anthopoulos has a rule of thumb when it comes to the offseason and that is to find great players then worry about how they fit later. For this roster, I think that’s a great mindset and one that I could get behind. Sure, the Braves could re-sign Marcell Ozuna and call it a day, but that doesn’t seem to be Anthopoulos’s M.O. and I wouldn’t expect it. One could justify adding to every aspect of this team and I expect Alex Anthopoulos to go into the offseason with that mentality.

Wants

  • A Trade of Ender Inciarte: The Braves now have the type of players that have no place on the team, but have serious upside that could be coveted by others. It’s interesting that my mind goes directly to Touki Toussaint, as that’s exactly how they acquired him by taking on dead money. To me, 8.7MM in 2020 to push the money available to ~35MM greatly helps the Braves.
  • Trade for Another Stud Pitcher: I’ll not dwell on this topic too long, but I know the Braves were interested in Luis Castillo at the deadline last year and I’m guessing they would be again if he were available.

It’s going to be an all hands on deck series and the Braves Journal All-Stars are ready to share their thoughts. Next up, Alex R and the starting pitching tomorrow!

Author: Ryan Cothran

Ryan is the site editor and manager of Braves Journal. Follow him on Twitter.

33 thoughts on “Where Do We Go From Here? Part 1, Braves Payroll”

  1. Once you trade Ender, Camargo and possible Touki you do knock some off the books. My question is are Folty and Newk still on the books? If they are then one or both need to go. Also, one thing to consider for down the road is that the basic agreement is over at the end of the 2021 season. MLBPA was not happy with the negotiations during the COVID season. We could have a lockout in 2022 or a strike.

  2. @1
    Packaging those 3 could be possible considering that both Camargo and Touki have upside and Ender has a 2022 option should he play well. A non-contending team might be willing to take a $10MM gamble to grab 1 rebound candidate and 2 players with upside.

    I believe the DH is here to stay and it would be an odd turn of events for it to disappear in 2021 only to return in 2022. I mean, it could happen if the owners want to dangle the carrot for a year. After this year’s season with little, if any, profit, I cannot imagine that there’ll be a strike. Owners should be desperate to get baseball on the field as the road to financial recovery is much more important than minor quibbles.

  3. I think it would be hard to trade Touki for value, as he’s such a wild card. I’m sure there are plenty of teams who would love to take a flier on him, but doubt they’d part with very much of their own. I’d vastly prefer that we find a way to showcase his value in the pen. Otherwise, it would basically be jettisoning him.

    Camargo, too. I’m sure he could catch on with any of the 29 teams, but I can’t see them giving up much for him. So I understand if it’s a question of clearly space on the 40-man, but I don’t think we can count on getting much else.

    This is the millionth offseason that we’ve been wishing loudly for a bad contract swap for Ender. After every team in baseball watched us leave him off the postseason roster, he’s either a bad contract swap or a DFA.

    I just don’t buy that the fact that revenue is down means that the payroll has to go down, simply because it’s plainly obvious that whenever revenue goes up it doesn’t mean that payroll has to go up. If anything, if there are 29 teams that are going to try to take an opportunity to shrink baseball-wide spending — what a more cynical person might call “collusion” — why wouldn’t we zag and pounce on a bunch of players who are about to be underpriced, just like Donaldson was two years ago, just like Ozuna was last year?

  4. You are correct that trading Ender can only happen if you give value to get somebody to take Ender. So, how much value do Hammers need to get rid of anyway because of options, minor league free agency, etc.

    On Folty, when they sent him down, (let along not bringing him back to ML), this relationship was too breached to ever work again. No way they offer arb. He will probably become a minor league free agent. I could see somebody offering him 2 million guaranteed if they get a 10 million option. That is about it.

    I see a little value for Newcombe in trade. A little.

  5. JC’d
    I also don’t see too much room to maneuver for AA this offseason due to financial constraints.
    The FF5 extension I am expecting. We won’t be in on Ozuna or Springer.
    In regards to a veteran pitcher, I can see us going after Quintana, Odorizzo or Minor if they are open for a short-term contract. Newk will end up in the pen as will Touki. Folty may actually come back. No reason to completely give up on him unless his velocity is gone for good.
    Barring injury, this will be a good to great team. Likely not quite the offensive juggernaut but certainly better starting pitching and a very good bullpen.

  6. At some point, if we want rid of Ender Inciarte, like…we’re just gonna have to get rid of Ender Inciarte. This finding a trade partner to do a bad money swap or whatever…I mean, fine if we can get it. But designating him for assignment is far more likely to be the required move.

    Also, I would make way more of that pre-arb list available via trade than you seem to want, Ryan. I can’t fathom why we’d be super-reluctant to trade either Kyle Wright or Bryse Wilson, for instance. Or Huascar Ynoa. In fact, the only three on there that caused me to recoil at the thought of trading them were Ian Anderson, Cristian Pache and Austin Riley. And I’d even include either of the latter two in a deal if I had to.

  7. I’m sure there’s some team that would do a bad contract swap for their reliever or starter on a bad contract and Ender. But otherwise, I agree that short of that, he just needs to be DFA’ed. Sad to see him end like this. He was a good Brave. I think Nick retires and Folty and Ender are DFA’ed as notable departures from this year’s team.

  8. @6 Can he not just take both routes, that the buck stops with him but he didn’t know? Accept responsibility for what was going on in the org but he didn’t know? Isn’t that what JS basically did with our cheating scandal?

  9. @7 &8

    I agree that the more likely thing to happen with Ender is that he just gets DFA’d. However, for the sake of argument, let’s take the Reds as an example. The Braves have a decision to make when it comes to Sean Newcomb and that decision could very well be to DFA or to tender a contract. They have that same decision for Camargo. However, both could be had for relatively cheap. The Reds take pride in fixing pitchers and believe they can turn damaged goods into studs. I could the see the Braves making a big and early deal with the Reds in which they send several “change of scenery” players that are under team control for a while plus Ender for someone like Mike Moustakas.

  10. @9, I don’t think John Schuerholz covered himself with glory with our scandal, either. I think that the honorable thing for Luhnow to do would be to acknowledge that the punishment was just, because as he ran the company, he either knew or he should have known. If he was so disconnected from the clubhouse that they could be running a cheating scheme involving multiple team employees completely without his knowledge, without any player ever mentioning, “Hey, boss, I’m not sure how I feel about this thing that plainly violates the commissioner’s ban on cheating via electronic devices,” that’s damning in itself.

    Instead he’s focused on how there are tens of thousands of text messages that DON’T implicate him. I simply don’t care, buddy. Try expressing a bit of humility and shame for your team’s having utterly disgraced the league. If you didn’t know that the organization you run was presiding over the worst scandal in baseball in 20 years, then that’s your own damn fault.

  11. Looking at the list again, I’d probably add William Contreras to the list of pre-arbs I wouldn’t be keen on trading.

  12. “The only thing unique about feeling responsibility and remorse when bad things happen under your watch is that it’s something company leaders never do.”

  13. Other than Anderson the only pre-arb pitcher that isn’t trade bait is Matzek. In fact I’d argue Matzek is worth more than all of the other pre-arb-non-Ian-Anderson pitchers put together. I suspect he could probably step in and close for Melancon, and he could certainly occupy any other role in the pen. If he had an offspeed pitch that he could throw down and away to righthanders he would be a potential #1 or #2 starter.

    No way anyone gives us anything of value for Inciarte, regardless of how much of his salary we eat. He is probably our 5th outfielder since there is no reason to rush Waters to the majors without a full season at AAA. If Contreras is ready defensively I think the rest of the offense is strong enough to carry him catching a couple times a week but there is also no reason to jeopardize his development, so we need a back up on a 1-yr deal. We are probably going to keep Camargo, but if we can get a utility guy in a trade that is cheaper or better offensively, I’d be happy to see him go. I suspect we could get a better lefthanded power hitting OF/3B for some combination of Wright, Touki, Wilson, Ynoa etc., and that should be the top trade priority.

    IMO, assuming the DH is not returning next year, the #1 free agent priority is to sign a top of the rotation starter. We know exactly who that is, it’s Trevor Bauer on a 1-year deal. If the Braves can’t find 35 million to pay him then they might as well just close up shop. If you need to pay someone 7m and a prospect or two to take Wil Smith, then do it. With Matzek, O’Day, Martin and Minter you will still have a more than sufficient foundation for the pen and plenty of young arms that can be developed as relievers.

  14. @14

    Totally disagree on Will Smith. With a full spring training that doesn’t include a positive coronavirus test and all that, I think there’s a very good chance that he’s easily our best reliever next year. Those who are gonna have bad flashbacks from this year are probably gonna have to get used to it.

  15. @15 In 2018 and 2019 Will Smith had two seasons that were each 45+ points higher than his career averages in ERA+, and he did this in his age 28 and 29 seasons. AA paid peak prices for production that he was never likely to replicate. I don’t have any doubt that he will provide much better value than the 108 ERA+ he put up this season, but if you need to dump salary to sign Trevor Bauer you flush that turd as fast as you can.

  16. Glad you caught that on O’Day, Ryan. I missed the team option on him when I was looking at the free agent list. And I agree, indeed they should pick that up.

    I’d also agree that anyone in the pre-arb list should be available in trade except for Pache, Anderson and Matzek (for me.) Especially if it helps move some of the dead weight/payroll and brings back something of value.

    And I know he is unpopular with many here, but I think it is a no brainer that we should make a hard push to sign Trevor Bauer for one year. He would deepen the rotation and give some room for the young ones to get another year under their belt before being pushed into the rotation before they are ready. (Also, we don’t yet know if Soroka will be ready by opening day. AA said that’s the target, but they won’t push him.)

    I should also suggest (as much as I would not like to do so) but we may still be seeing signs of financial uncertainty come next year in Feb/March. The Covid thing ain’t going away overnight and we may not be to a point of full ballparks when the season opens. That uncertainty may cause many GMs to pinch a few more pennies when looking to sign FAs or fill out payroll.

  17. Everything I’ve heard puts Soroka coming back in June at the earliest.

    And I wouldn’t get my hopes up on Bauer or any other notable free agent. Temper your expectations and then be happy if something goes through.

    Matzek should be given a chance to start if he wants to, assuming all our rookie options are crapping the bed.

  18. My understanding is 6 months, and both of below are consistent with that.

    I think this should be meant to mean 6 months until “real professional athlete training.” But that puts you around “pitchers and catchers report.” Without a “setback” Soroka should be able to at least do some 2 to 3 inning stints by opening day.

    https://healthy.kaiserpermanente.org/health-wellness/health-encyclopedia/he.achilles-tendon-repair-what-to-expect-at-home.zc2320?kpSearch=Knee%20pain#:~:text=Your%20tendon%20will%20slowly%20get,leg%20after%20a%20few%20weeks.

    http://rebalancemd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Achilles_Tendon_Repair_Recovery_Guide.pdf

  19. @19 I can’t recall, but it must’ve been someone on twitter. Gotta remember not to trust everything you hear there. I remember the time estimates when it happened saying 9 months as well

    I had not seen DOB’s quote, or what cliff posted, so suddenly I feel a lot more optimistic about the timetable.

  20. This year we should have had solid seasons from Soroka, Folty, Hamels, and King Felix.

    When those options went south, we should have picked up some starting pitching during the season.

    We should have won the World Series. With even just one more solid starter, I think we would have.

  21. @22 I can’t help but wonder that now that it’s played out exactly that way — we were one SP short — who were we not willing to trade to get said one SP? Who did we deem untouchable for a deal for a rental SP that would have put us over the top?

  22. @23 – Someday when AA writes his memoir we will learn that he had offers out for guys like Lance Lynn who could have been game changers only to be told that Liberty wouldn’t let him add even a single red cent to the payroll. He will also tell us that it would have cost too many prospects to have the Rangers or whoever also eat all of the salary, and he may or may not be willing to admit the truth which is that at that point he didn’t foresee that we really had any real chance of coming within four scoreless innings of the World Series.

  23. switched it on, earlyish, no score…
    immediately, 2-0 LA…. i knew that left handed swing too well….
    switched it off, pronto.
    11.15 switched it on….
    8-3 LA, last of 8th….
    Betts lead off single.
    BAH
    Switched it off.

    BED

  24. I expect Folty to be non-tendered, and I guess OP does too since he’s not on the arb list.

    I want Bauer and Ozuna (assuming universal DH). I don’t want to hear any nonsense about revenues. Every team is in the same boat.

  25. I think the Braves need to do three things:

    Get a big bat
    -Get a number 2 or 3 starter-not take a flyer on a old hurt guy
    -Extend Freeman

  26. Release Enciarte today.

    Release Folty tomorrow.

    Trade Camargo for a flier with upside.

    Resign Ozuna

    Utilize internal assets for all SP slots. There are PLENTY of decent to good options internally such that we don’t need to go find another Cahill or the like. Unless you can sign a 26 year old with a PROVEN track record of success.

    Pencil in Pache as the day 1 full time starter at CF unless he simply proves that he cannot hit once there’s scouting reports on him.

    Extend Freeman, but ask if there’s a hometown discount.

    Give Waters a LONG look in Spring Training, enough to determine if he’s a prospect, or not. If not, fool someone else into thinking that he is.

    LONG looks on Tucker Davidson.

    Find a way to optimize Matzek, whatever that may be. He is possibly our best reliever and probably our 3rd best pitcher overall. There’s a reason the guy was a 1st round DP and its finally showing through.

    I’m probably in the minority… but I’d assess the coaching staff outside of Seitzer. I felt that Washington’s basecoaching decisions this year to be poor overall, and also if you go to games, you can see that Albies is his ‘guy’. Ozzie IMO regressed this year. Our fielding and positioning were atrocious. Weiss needs to be evaluated too.

  27. Timosays:
    October 21, 2020 at 9:47 am
    Re. Folty. What do we have to lose to take a LONG look at him next spring?

    About $1.5M, assuming he gets a pay cut in the Arb process. I would do it but it really depends on his physicals and the trackman data from Gwinnett. If he cannot regularly touch 96 he really isn’t MLB caliber any more.

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